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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 5

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 29:13-24: Prophecies to Judah

Chapter 1: The Wisdom of God’s Law

Having completed Isaiah’s prophecies of the nations from Isaiah 13 to 29:12, beginning with Babylon and ending with Ephraim and Judah, the prophet then continues to prophesy to Judah. He sets forth the problem of lawlessness and the solution of obedience and trust in the true God.

Isaiah 29:13, 14 says,

13 Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and the reverence for Me consists of traditions learned by rote, 14 therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people; wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”

In this opening statement, the prophet puts his finger on the main heart problem of Judah both then and later during the time of Christ.

The Law vs. the Traditions of Men

Jesus quoted this passage in Matt. 15:7-9 and in Mark 7:6-8,

6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 7 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

Verses 6 and 7 are taken from the Septuagint (Greek translation of Isaiah 29:13, 14). Verse 8 is Jesus’ commentary that explains what it means. Judah’s main heart problem, dating back at least as far as the time of Isaiah, was that they pretended to follow “the commandment of God,” while actually holding to “the tradition of men.”

The problem with such hypocrisy is that the religious leaders of Judah had interpreted the law in such ways that God never intended. Strangely enough, the church has often taken Jesus’ words to mean that the law itself was to be cast aside. But Jesus upheld the law and gave us its true meaning. Jesus abolished the traditions of men, not the commandments of God. So He tells us in Matt. 5:17-19,

17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill [pleroo, “to complete, to fill”]. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished [ginomai, “to become, come into existence, to be made, finished”]. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Instead of abolishing the law, Jesus came to bring it to its ultimate goal by fulfilling its prophecies and by living according to the nature of God expressed in the law. It is clear from the context that Jesus did not come to bring the law to an end (or abolish it). Hence, those in the church who teach that Christ annulled the law “shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus explained this further in Matt. 7:21-23,

21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness [anomia].

This was a warning to believers who declared Jesus to be “Lord” and who prophesied in His name and who even performed miracles. We have seen many such miracle workers today. Jesus did not criticize their prophecies, their exorcisms, or their miracles. The problem was their lawlessness (anomia), a word describing their belief that the law of God was abolished.

The problem with anomia is that men assume the right to violate any law which, in their opinion, is unjust or inconvenient to their flesh. Without a proper understanding of the law, the flesh tends to find fault with the law rather than with their own interpretation of it. Relatively few have a genuine revelation of the law, without which it is impossible to know the mind and heart of God.

The flesh has its opinions, but these are only “the traditions of men.” When men live according to traditions that are contrary to the law of God, they disqualify themselves as overcomers, for Jesus said of them, “I never knew you; depart from Me.”

Having said that, we should understand that the two covenants are two ways of fulfilling the law. The Old Covenant is where we have faith in our own vows and promises of obedience to fulfill the law. The New Covenant is where we have faith in God’s vow and promise to write His law in our hearts. In both covenants, the same law takes a prominent role. The main difference is in the object of our faith. Who is responsible to conform us to the image of Christ? Is it by the will of the flesh and our own efforts to attain such righteousness? Or is it by the work of God in us, transforming us by His Spirit so that our lives conform to the law and nature of God Himself?

The Old Covenant method will always fail. The New Covenant method will always succeed.

There were two possible ways for Jesus to save everyone from the judgments of the law. First, he could have abolished the law, making every sin an act of righteousness, for “where there is no law, there also is no violation” (Rom. 4:15). If Jesus had chosen that path, He would not have had to die, for no penalty for sin would have been owed by any man.

Instead, Jesus chose the more difficult path. He upheld the law, recognized its authority to judge all men for sin, and then went to the cross to pay the penalty for every sin ever committed. In so doing, He did not abolish the law but respected and upheld its righteous standard.

Earthly Wisdom Perishes

Isaiah 29:14 says “therefore,” telling us the result of following the traditions of men. The prophet says, “the wisdom of the wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”

Paul quotes this verse in 1 Cor. 1:19. The full context is seen from 1 Cor. 1:18-21,

18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written [in Isaiah 29:14], “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Worldly wisdom is based on fleshly reason, which is limited in its ability to know spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:11, 12, 14). Hence, the source of wisdom is God, who works through our spirit, rather than through our soul. To put on the mind of God, then, involves changing one’s identity from the soul to the spirit. The soul (“natural man”) is mortal and limited; the spirit (“new man”) is immortal and has access to the unlimited wisdom of God.

Both Paul and Jesus were very familiar with Isaiah’s writings, and both quoted Isaiah 29:13, 14 in their teachings. The traditions of men were the basis of priestly teaching in Judah and Jerusalem, and this was a major problem. They could not distinguish between the law of God and men’s interpretations of the law. Hence, whenever they misinterpreted and misunderstood the law, they taught “the traditions of men” while labeling these as “the commandment of God.”

The church has carried this problem a step further. By assuming that the rabbis were teaching the law correctly, many church theologians concluded that Jesus was casting out the law itself. Hence, antinomianism became a traditional problem in the church.

Not Under the Law

In Romans 6:14, 15, Paul says,

14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!

Many Christians misunderstand this statement, because they have not studied the law itself and do not know the meaning of these terms. All sin is reckoned as a debt. When a man sinned against his neighbor, the judge determined the amount of debt that was owed to his victim. As long as the sinner was under the sentence of the law—still owing a debt—he was said to be “under the law.”

In other words, the law still had an interest in his case. The sinner was not free to do as he wished but was put into bondage to someone in order to pay off his debt.

But when his debt was finally paid, he was released from bondage, and the law had no authority to keep him in bondage. He was then said to be “under grace.”

Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sin of the world. This is why we are “under grace.” Our debt has been paid, and we have applied His blood to the altar of our hearts, as prescribed in the law.

Does our present freedom then give us the liberty to sin? Of course not. Paul says in Rom. 6:1, 2,

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

If we continue in sin, it shows that the law has not yet been written in our hearts. If the Spirit of God has not begun to write the law in our hearts, then something is wrong. 1 John 3:4 says,

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness [anomia].

Many Christians are so ignorant of the law that they do not even know sin is a violation of the law. Hence, they think they can violate the law without committing sin! It is indeed a crazy world.

If Christ’s blood has set us free from the liability of our sin, why would we want to continue in sin that grace may abound? Such an attitude is comparable to a diabetic who, after being healed, returns to the sugar diet that made him diabetic in the first place. Should he claim healing so that he may abuse his body with impunity? As Paul says, “May it never be!”

So also, having been freed from the penalty of sin by the blood of Jesus, we ought not to return to the same lawless lifestyle that had put us “under the law” in the first place.